Saturday, April 22, 2017

Judges 16:15-22 – Samson, a lesson in failure

And she (Delilah) said to him, “How can you say, ‘I love you,’ when your heart is not with me? You have mocked me these three times, and you have not told me where your great strength lies.”  And when she pressed him hard with her words day after day, and urged him, his soul was vexed to death.
And he told her all his heart, and said to her, “A razor has never come upon my head, for I have been a Nazirite to God from my mother's womb. If my head is shaved, then my strength will leave me, and I shall become weak and be like any other man.”
When Delilah saw that he had told her all his heart, she sent and called the lords of the Philistines, saying, “Come up again, for he has told me all his heart.” Then the lords of the Philistines came up to her and brought the money in their hands.  She made him sleep on her knees.
And she called a man and had him shave off the seven locks of his head. Then she began to torment him, and his strength left him.  And she said, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” And he awoke from his sleep and said, “I will go out as at other times and shake myself free.”
But he did not know that the Lord had left him.
And the Philistines seized him and gouged out his eyes and brought him down to Gaza and bound him with bronze shackles. And he ground at the mill in the prison.
But the hair of his head began to grow again after it had been shaved.

Have you ever failed at something?  Of course you have.  Looking back you might be able to laugh about it NOW…

or not.  

For those of us who have experienced their fair share of failure, Stephen Piles has written a book, called, “The book of failures.”  It’s got some humdingers in there like the time back in 1978 when the firefighter’s union was on strike in England.  That strike made possible one of the greatest animal rescues of all time ⇒ almost.  

Valiantly the British Army had taken over all emergency firefighting.  On January 14th they were called by an elderly lady in South London to rescue her cat.
Arriving on the scene with impressive haste, they carefully retrieved her precious pet.  The lady was so grateful that she invited her “heroes” in for tea.
Driving away with fond farewells and warm waving of hands, they

- ran over her cat and killed it.  OUCH!  

Failure hurts.  Especially when that failure is public.  Especially when the person in question is a leader… or is respected.
28 years ago I was deeply troubled by a headline in my hometown newspaper.  It read, “Minister jailed over church sex scandal.”  The man in question pastored a church I had attended.  He was the man who led me to Jesus.  His son was my best friend.  I had eaten at his table and slept under his roof so many times that his wife referred to me as their “other son.”  And while I do not condemn or stand as his judge, his failure was catastrophic… many lives were affected … many hearts broken.
How do you respond to failure?  Are you disgusted by it and does that disgust lead you to condemn - judge?  OR, do you try to learn from it – realizing your OWN weaknesses …your OWN penchant for sin?
Maybe experience has tempered your judgment some, and you realize you have failed too many times yourself to be in a position of throwing stones at others.  

Failure is a hard thing to handle – but handle it we must for it is a BIG part of life… AND a BIG part of the Bible.
I LOVE the REALISM of the Bible – it pulls no punches – it refuses to sugar-coat the truth.  It tells the whole story… even to the point of shattering the image we might have had of some of the Bible’s greatest heroes.  Heroes like Samson.  

Samson’s whole life seems to be one long-running failure.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way.  Samson was a miracle baby… the product of his mother’s prayer.  

Those were desperate days in Israel.  After Joshua’s generation died out, the people of Israel drifted away from the Lord… as is OFTEN the case, when lean times give way to more prosperous times… when war is over and old warriors hang up their shields, too often, it seems, they fail to pass their faith on to the next generation.  

The author of Judges even states, “everyone did what was right in their own eyes.”  People often forget God when the conflict is ended.  Resisting GOD’S authority, they became their OWN authority.
For such a time as this, God sent a man, Samson, to turn the heart of a nation back to the Lord.  From his birth, he was dedicated to God, raised to be an example of Godliness and commitment.  

WE remember him for his superhuman strength
  • …how he killed a lion with his bare hands…
  • and how he killed a thousand Philistine soldiers with the jawbone of a donkey.  
  • We remember how he carried away the gates to the city
  • and when he broke the ropes that bound him as though they were but threads.
In spite of his great strength, however… Samson was a man of glaring weakness.  

Though he could harness 300 foxes with his bare hands, he never learned how to harness his sinful desires; and as a result, his life ended in shame and tragedy.
The story of Samson spans four chapters of the book of Judges… but for the sake of time, we will hone in on three pivotal moments in his life.
My intent today is simple – to show you how even the most gifted and talented people CAN fall… AND to remind YOU - that failure - doesn’t have to be final.  Notice:

1.  First, Samson’s restraining favor.  At the beginning of his life, chapter 13 says, “the LORD blessed him.  And the Spirit of the LORD began to move him…”  

Samson owed all of his strength – all he had become, to God.  It was his relationship with the Lord that made him who he was.  God had set him apart for a higher purpose.  God had called him to do a great work – but even more importantly – God called him to be a great MAN.
Samson’s strength came from his commitment to God.  Even before he was born, God commanded he be raised a Nazarite.  

A Nazarite made a commitment to God - they promised God three things:
First, that he would not drink ANY alcoholic beverages.  God did not want his man under the influence or control of any spirit other than the Holy Spirit.  

Alcohol, according to Proverbs, is a “cruel mocker.”  It will make a fool of you.  And those under its influence find themselves making OTHER compromises – yielding to OTHER temptations.  This is why Paul warned believers “not to be drunk with wine, wherein is excess.”  The word “excess” implies “no self-control.”  When a person is under the influence of alcohol, he doesn’t have self-control … he does stupid things, regrettable things when he drinks.  

God wanted His man to have a clear mind… an honorable reputation… and a resolute will.  All of which are lost when a person is under the influence of alcohol.
Second, Samson promised the Lord he wouldn’t cut his hair.  In those days, a man leaving his hair uncut was a sign of devotion to God and separation from the world.  It represented his willingness to bare reproach for the Lord’s sake.  It was a sign of devotion and humility.
Even WAY BACK THEN, God wanted His people to STAND OUT from their peers.
He still expects that.  Regardless the pressure we face to conform to this world, God wants His people to stand out from the world.
And third… Samson promised he would not touch a dead body of any kind.  He was to stay away from ANYTHING that might make him unclean.
Christians are still called to avoid anything that would make them “unclean.”  Paul said in 2 Corinthians 6:17, “Come out from among them and be separate…do not touch what is unclean.”  

What does that mean exactly??  Several things:
First, Christians must avoid unholy practices.  A Christian has no business involving himself in those things that do not please the Lord.  Too many Christians think it is ok to do the “Christian thing” on Sunday, but then they do the “worldly thing” the rest of the time.  NO SIR.  God has called you to be different.
Second, we must avoid unholy pleasure.  When you become a Christian, there will be times when you must say ‘No.’  When you are contemplating whether a thing is right for you to do, ask yourself what you would do if Christ was standing right beside you.  Why?  Because He is.
Third, if you would honor the Lord you must also avoid unholy people.  There are too many folks out there who are hell-bent on swaying you from doing the right thing.  Stay away from those people. If those are the kinds of folks you call “friends,” you have no understanding of the biblical concept of friendship.
Fourth, you need to avoid unholy places if you would please the Lord.  There are some places you don’t belong as Christian.  Nothing good can come from it – only compromise.

All of this was involved in Samson’s vow.  God was saying, “THIS is the kind of man I will bless!”  If you will abide by THESE RESTRAINTS, if you will say, “I don’t want anything in my life to challenge my love and commitment to God,” God will bless you – with influence, a testimony, with character and strength… God honors the man who is determined to honor Him.
Samson had made a commitment – and God gave him supernatural strength because of it.
2.  But not only do we see his Restraining Favor, we move on to witness his Recurring Failure.  Samson’s constant struggle is summed up perfectly by chapter 14 and verse 1:  “Samson went down to Timnah.”  

He had so much potential for good.  When he honored the Lord, the Spirit of God moved him and blessed him and made him strong.  BUT, when “he went down to Timnah,” his life began to unravel… his commitment fell apart.  How so?  In three ways:
On his way to Timnah, he was attacked by a Lion, and the Bible says that the Spirit of God came on him and he tore that lion apart with his bare hands.  

That was a good thing.  The Lord is showing us that the only way to defeat the Lion in OUR lives is by the aid of the Spirit of God!
But Samson forgot that often after great victories come great temptations.  When we are most confident - we get cocky - and lower our guard.
On his way back home, Samson came back to the place where he had killed the lion and noticed a beehive built inside the carcass.  He was hungry and gave into that hunger, that natural desire, and he broke his vow.  He touched the dead body in order to get some honey.  He traded that which is lasting for that which is temporary.
Not only did he touch a dead body, while in Timnah he attended a drinking party.  The Philistines loved to throw beer bashes, and Samson went down to Timnah and had himself a big ole time. - - As long as the wine was flowing, Samson forgot his commitment to the Lord.

All of which reminds us that when we start breaking our promises to the Lord, it gets easier each time.  His desire for fun and fitting in with the crowd, had become more important than his commitment to God.
While there, he fell in love with a woman.  But she wasn’t just any woman – she was a LOST woman.  He didn’t find the women of Israel interesting enough, so on two separate occasions, in violation of God’s clear command, he gave his heart to unbelieving women.  

  • Maybe he thought he could convert them???  
  • Maybe he thought they would change for HIM???  
  • Like some of you who rationalize disobedience to God - saying, “But it will be different for me.”

When Samson revealed the secret of his strength, when he gave that piece of his heart to her that had belonged to God, the mighty man of God became ordinary.
What might be THE SADDEST WORDS IN ALL OF THE BIBLE follow:  He didn’t know that the Spirit had left him.  

Samson neglected his commitment to God.  He didn’t think the details mattered.  He thought God would just forgive him and go on.  Not knowing that those little details MATTER TO GOD.
And what makes this story SO TRAGIC is how often it is repeated TODAY.  Church People - who know the power and blessing of God, bit by bit throw their commitment away until they are no different than anyone else.  Strength gone… influence gone… joy gone.  Not realizing that when you flirt with the world, you fail God.

Have YOU failed God?  Have YOU, like Samson, compromised your commitment to the Lord?  Maybe you never intended for things to go this far… but here you are, filled with regret, loneliness, and heartbreak.  If that’s you, there is one more point you need to notice:
3.  After seeing his Restraining Favor and his Recurring Failure, I want you to notice his Redeeming Feature.  Verse 22 tells us that Samson’s hair began to grow again.  There in that Philistine torture chamber, Samson remembered how blessed he had been when God was first in his life.  So verse 28 says, “And Samson called unto the LORD, and said, ‘O Lord GOD, remember me, I pray!’”
And the thing I love about that – is - God heard his prayer.  God forgave and restored him.  And in a final display of power, Samson killed more of God’s enemies in his death - than in his life.

It's a shame, though. Samson could have lived a long and powerful life… he could have made such a difference… but his failures cut his life, his influence short. Reminding us that sin always has its costs.
His ENDING also reminds us that there is NO SITUATION God cannot redeem… no case too far gone for God.  It doesn’t matter what you have done, where you have been, the lives hurt, the poor choices made…

God can redeem it IF you will turn from your sins and in faith cry out the Him.  God will forgive your faults and make you new, IF you will repent.
Right now, some of us have a longing for that.  Right now, we want to know what forgiveness feels like…what true joy and peace and love are like.  And God wants you to give it to you.  If He could forgive and restore Samson, He can do the same for you.  The question is, will you confess it to Him and call upon Him right now??
All of us – ALL of us, have known what it is to fail – all of us know what a mess can be made when we get outside of God’s will for our lives.
You are not among judges, friend, you are among those who know what it is to sin and suffer the shame and consequences of it.  The only difference is, some of us have cried out to the Lord, just like Samson, and have been forgiven and restored.  Some of us refused to be defined by our failures and sought the mercy of Jesus Christ.
Do YOU need to do that? How many here today would say, “Like Samson I have failed.  I haven’t honored my commitments​ to God.  And I need God’s grace to forgive me and restore me?”